Policy Privileges are not Assigned Consistently Between Control and Data Agents

The product's hardware-enforced access control for a particular resource improperly accounts for privilege discrepancies between control and write policies.


Integrated circuits and hardware engines may provide access to resources (device-configuration, encryption keys, etc.) belonging to trusted firmware or software modules (commonly set by a BIOS or a bootloader). These accesses are typically controlled and limited by the hardware. Hardware design access control is sometimes implemented using a policy. A policy defines which entity or agent may or may not be allowed to perform an action. When a system implements multiple levels of policies, a control policy may allow direct access to a resource as well as changes to the policies themselves.

Resources that include agents in their control policy but not in their write policy could unintentionally allow an untrusted agent to insert itself in the write policy register. Inclusion in the write policy register could allow a malicious or misbehaving agent write access to resources. This action could result in security compromises including leaked information, leaked encryption keys, or modification of device configuration.


The following examples help to illustrate the nature of this weakness and describe methods or techniques which can be used to mitigate the risk.

Note that the examples here are by no means exhaustive and any given weakness may have many subtle varieties, each of which may require different detection methods or runtime controls.

Example One

Consider a system of seven registers for storing and configuring an AES key for encryption or decryption.

Four 32-bit registers are used to store a 128-bit AES key. The names of those registers are AES_ENC_DEC_KEY_0, AES_ENC_DEC_KEY_1, AES_ENC_DEC_KEY_2, and AES_ENC_DEC_KEY_3. Collectively these are referred to as the AES Key registers.


Field description


AES key [0:31] for encryption or decryption

Default 0x00000000


AES key [32:63] for encryption or decryption

Default 0x00000000


AES key [64:95] for encryption or decryption

Default 0x00000000


AES key [96:127] for encryption or decryption

Default 0x00000000

Three 32-bit registers are used to define access control for the AES-key registers. The names of those registers are AES_KEY_CONTROL_POLICY, AES_KEY_READ_POLICY, and AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY. Collectively these registers are referred to as the Policy registers, and their functions are explained next.

The AES_KEY_CONTROL_POLICY register defines which agents can write to the AES_KEY_READ_POLICY or AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY registers.

The AES_KEY_READ_POLICY register defines which agents can read the AES-key registers.

The AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY register defines which agents can write the AES key registers.

The preceding three policy registers encode access control at the bit level. Therefore a maximum of 32 agents can be defined (1 bit per agent). The value of the bit when set (i.e., "1") allows the respective action from an agent whose identity corresponds to the number of the bit. If clear (i.e., "0"), it disallows the respective action to that corresponding agent. For example, if bit 0 is set to "1" in the AES_KEY_READ_POLICY register, then agent 0 has permission to read the AES-key registers.

Consider that there are 4 agents named Agent 1, Agent 2, Agent 3, and Agent 4. For access control purposes Agent 1 is assigned to bit 1, Agent 2 to bit 2, Agent 3 to bit 3, and Agent 4 to bit 4. All agents are trusted except for Agent 3 who is untrusted. Also consider the register values in the below table.

RegisterField descriptionAES_KEY_CONTROL_POLICYControls which agents can write to READ_POLICY and WRITE_POLICY registers
[31:0] Default 0x00000018AES_KEY_READ_POLICYControls which agents can read the AES-key registers
[31:0] Default 0x00000002AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICYControls which agents can write to the AES-key registers
[31:0] Default 0x00000004

IThe AES_KEY_CONTROL_POLICY register value is 0x00000018. In binary, the lower 8 bits will be 0001 1000, meaning that:

Bits 3 and 4 are set, thus Agents 3 and 4 will have write access to AES_KEY_READ_POLICY or AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY.

All other bits are clear, hence agents other than 3 and 4 will not have access to write to AES_KEY_READ_POLICY or AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY.

The AES_KEY_READ_POLICY register value is 0x00000002. In binary, the lower 8 bits will be 0000 0010, meaning that:

Bit 1 is set, thus Agent 1 will be able to read the AES key registers.

The AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY register value is 0x00000004. In binary, the lower 8 bits will be 0000 0100, meaning that:

Bit 2 is set, thus Agent 2 will be able to write the AES Key registers.

The configured access control policy for Agents 1,2,3,4 is summarized in table below.





Agent 1


Not Allowed

Not Allowed

Agent 2

Not Allowed


Not Allowed

Agent 3

Not Allowed

Not Allowed


Agent 4

Not Allowed

Not Allowed


At this point Agents 3 and 4 can only configure which agents can read AES keys and which agents can write AES keys. Agents 3 and 4 cannot read or write AES keys - just configure access control.

Now, recall Agent 3 is untrusted. As explained above, the value of the AES_KEY_CONTROL_POLICY register gives agent 3 access to write to the AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY register. Agent 3 can use this write access to add themselves to the AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY register. This is accomplished by Agent 3 writing the value 0x00000006. In binary, the lower 8 bits are 0000 0110, meaning that bit 3 will be set. Thus, giving Agent 3 having the ability to write to the AES Key registers.

If the AES_KEY_CONTROL_POLICY register value is 0x00000010, the lower 8 bits will be 0001 0000. This will give Agent 4, a trusted agent, write access to AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY, but Agent 3, who is untrusted, will not have write access. The Policy register values should therefore be as follows:

RegisterField descriptionAES_KEY_CONTROL_POLICY[31:0] Default 0x00000010AES_KEY_READ_POLICY[31:0] Default 0x00000002AES_KEY_WRITE_POLICY[31:0] Default 0x00000004

See Also

Comprehensive Categorization: Access Control

Weaknesses in this category are related to access control.

Privilege Separation and Access Control Issues

Weaknesses in this category are related to features and mechanisms providing hardware-based isolation and access control (e.g., identity, policy, locking control) of s...

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

This view (slice) covers all the elements in CWE.

Entries with Maintenance Notes

CWE entries in this view have maintenance notes. Maintenance notes are an indicator that an entry might change significantly in future versions. This view was created...

Weaknesses Introduced During Implementation

This view (slice) lists weaknesses that can be introduced during implementation.

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